This post is sponsored by our friends at Kia Motors America. They were kind enough to provide us a new 2017 Kia Niro Touring Edition for our southern adventure and it was the perfect ride for our two-week road trip.
On The Road Again
It’s only July and I can already tell this is going to go down as the greatest summer to date. When Kiddo decided to go to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, Kia offered us a brand new crimson (Go ‘Bama #rolltide) 2017 Kia Niro Touring Edition so we could expand our trip and drive across Tennessee before making our way back to California. Something about this reminded me of Cameron Crowe’s 2005 movie, Elizabethtown starring Orlando Bloom and Kristen Dunst. While the film didn’t earn the kindest reviews, there was something peaceful about it and truly inspiring. Never in a million years did I think I would be finding myself driving through Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, but there I was loving every moment. It gave me days and hours to discover and rediscover songs while taking in the new scenery. The soundtrack also transported me to different times reflecting on people, places, and things, in my life that I haven’t thought about in years. Some good, some sad, some just plain rad.
In case no one has ever let you in on the secret to an amazing car ride, it’s music. Setting the tone with the tunes allows you to embrace the wheel and create special memories. It guarantees good vibes and has this way of submerging you deep in the soul and culture of your destination. I knew our Kia Niro would be equipped with satellite radio, but sometimes it’s necessary to be your own DJ and curate a meaningful playlist for your journey.
“I mean everybody’s got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives.”- Elizabethtown
✨”There’s a starman waiting in the sky / He’d like to come and meet us / But he thinks he’d blow our minds.” 💫
This was a really big day. Kiddo is off to sleep away camp for the first time and I know she’s going to do amazing. She thinks I don’t know, but I do. The reason she wanted to go to Space Camp 🚀 so badly that is. She has grown up listening to songs about stars, flying machines, and planets from her musical heroes like Bowie, Foo Fighters + Coldplay. At night before she falls asleep she imagines what Life on Mars must be like in a Sky Full of Stars as she’s Learning to Fly. Today she gets her astronaut flight suit and reports for duty. Godspeed Major Standley, I will see you on Graduation Day. 🌎🌟🚀
Small Town America
While Kiddo was training to one day embark on a mission to Mars, I took the opportunity to drive up to Lynchburg, Tennessee and visit the Jack Daniels Distillery for a tour. Believe it or not, Lynchburg is a dry county so don’t expect to drink barrels of Jack, but on certain tours, they do offer flights with small sips for you to taste. The ride from Huntsville to Alabama was a little over an hour and this was my first solo leg of the trip. It’s funny how much you think and reminisce when driving by yourself through the hills of Tennessee. What’s even more glorious is the scenery. The skies are blue, the clouds are white, and the surroundings are the deepest shades of green. You can’t help but feel really patriotic in these parts.
After the tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery, I headed over to Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House for lunch. Each dining room has a host and you’re seated with 8 – 10 strangers. This was a highlight of the day and I recommend making reservations as it is just as popular with the Lynchburg locals as it is with the tourists.
Little did I know we had to drive through Georgia to get to Knoxville. We were making good time, but it took absolutely everything for me not to stop when I was the freeway sign read ATHENS. Umm…R.E.M, duh! But Athens is also the home to The B-52’s and Widespread Panic. It was still light out, but I didn’t know how much longer. You can bet next summer our trip will involve an in-depth pit stop.
The TENNESSEAN is brand new and amazing. It’s in a great location, and our room had floor-to-ceiling windows with a panoramic view. It was hard not to fall in love with this place. It was the perfect spot to regroup and our home base while heading down to Dollywood for the day. Not to mention, I finally crossed Waffle House off my bucket list. Oh, yes…you know I brought home a coffee mug to remember the best cuppa I’ve ever had. Have I mentioned I *still* haven’t had to fill up the fuel tank? Winning!
Dollywood – Pigeon Forge, TN
How could I possibly go on a sonic highways road trip without stopping at Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains? This was Kiddo’s first introduction to Ms. Dolly Parton and she had the time of her life especially on Dolly’s tour bus. Even though there were rides everywhere, she thought her bus was the coolest thing ever. Another highlight was joining the skilled glass blowers where she made a beautiful glass ornament that turned out beautifully.
Vanderbilt University + Thompson Nashville
I knew from the moment we entered the city limits that Nashville would be pretty amazing. The feeling was so intense that I drove right to the heart of Vanderbilt University so I could plant a seed in Kiddo’s tween brain. We headed to the bookstore, grabbed her some Vandy garb, and proceeded to check-in to our home for the next few days, Thompson Nashville. In the heart of The Gulch, it was clear we picked the right place to stay. Let’s face it, any place that stocks their rooms with a Marshall speaker, White Stripe albums, and Kettle Corn with BACON 🥓 reeks rock and roll to me. Located between Music Row and the downtown honky tonks on Broadway, perhaps I’m a bit country after-all… Sigh.
Third Man Records
Unbeknownst to us, we won the Nashville lottery when it came to dates. Not only did we land in Music City for the CMT Awards, but during the Stanley Cup playoffs as well. Talk about poetic justice. I don’t know squat about country music OR hockey so this trip is proving to be baptism by fire. I decided to hide out from the rain and visit Jack White’s Third Man Records. It’s a unique shop and recording studio that Kiddo particularly fell in love with. So much that her carry-on was overflowing with White Stripe LPs and 45s. They even have a booth where you can record directly to vinyl and make your own 45. She decided on song lyrics that reminded her of this trip making it the quintessential souvenir.
Kiddo also left her mark. She left her “Prayer for Owen Meaney” book at the Third Man Community Library with a note in the guest log reminding everyone to follow their dreams.
Oh, Nashville, I love you so much. I’m going to miss you with all my heart. Perhaps I am a fan of country music after all. I have always enjoyed the older music from country legends like Johnny, Hank, Willie, and Waylon, but I’ve never really been drawn into contemporary country. This trip changed me. I’m even coming home with cowboy boots at Draper James.
On our way out of Nashville, we finally had to fill up the tank since we were below a quarter of a tank. It cost $42.00. FORTY-TWO DOLLARS! This is the greatest road trip car ever. Memphis…here we come!
Driving down the interstate towards Memphis during sunset was my favorite part of the drive. We had the windows down and the warm breeze engulfed us like a hug. It was time for “Music for the Soul” where we could sing at the top of our lungs and get ready for the last leg of our Road Trip ’17 tour.
Just when I thought a city couldn’t move me like Nashville. Maybe it’s just Tennessee, or perhaps it’s the south in general. There is so much history and rich culture that it’s hard for it not to make a lasting impression. When I first proposed Kiddo and I take a road trip she had two requests, that we visit the U.S. National Civil Rights Museum and Graceland. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum, but here we are at the end of the line in Memphis and so it’s my turn to keep up my part of the bargain.
Having never been the biggest Elvis Presley fan I think Paul Simon said it best, “I’m going to Graceland For reasons I cannot explain, there’s some part of me wants to see Graceland. And I may be obliged to defend every love, every ending or maybe there are no obligations now. Maybe I have a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.” And he was right, I was received. She was received, and I left a different person. And *someone* else left their mark.
To really embrace this part of the trip we stayed a few nights at The Guest House at Graceland. What a perfect addition to our trip. I have so much more to share about this property and can’t wait to share so stay tuned!
I will never be able to properly put into words how emotional our afternoon visit to The National Civil Rights Museum was. Located at the historic Lorraine Motel and site of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, it is impossible not to be emotionally moved by all the interactive exhibits documenting history, including King’s room which after all these years left exactly as it was the morning down to the day’s newspaper. Seeing everything you have ever read or seen in movies come to life, it clearly affected both of us, especially Kiddo, on a deeper level.
Dubbed the Birthplace of Rock and Roll and home of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ this is where artists, including Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded throughout the mid-to-late 1950s. Years later Bono and U2 recorded “Angel of Harlem,” “When Love Comes To Town,” and “Love Rescue Me” for Rattle and Hum there.
2017 Kia Niro Touring Edition
The redesigned crossover comes with all the bells and whistles making it my ideal vehicle for road trips. Not only did I feel safe driving the Niro which is my first priority, but it fit all of our stuff and we don’t travel lightly. You can tell a lot by a car after a week and a half and almost 2000 miles. Suddenly, the small things become the big things. I notice the climate controls and if the dash is user-friendly on the fly. Does the car become a wind tunnel when the sunroof is open? Are you comfortable in these seats? How about your passengers? Probably sounds silly, but trust me when deciding on a car, the smallest things should be deal breakers. This is a big investment, not this seasons latest sweater. I say this because I’m really shallow and my future cars need to have A/C ventilating seats and a heated steering wheel or I’m not signing on that dotted line.
I’m also taking the step towards energy-efficient vehicles. It’s my obligation as a citizen of the world to lead by example and I’m starting with our next lease. I loved the Kia Niro because to driving two weeks through Huntsville, AL – Lynchburg, TN – Huntsville, AL – Athens, GA – Knoxville, TN – Pigeon Forge, TN – Knoxville, TN – Nashville, TN, and Memphis, TN, it cost me under $65 in gas.
The Kia Niro is also a looker. I loved the style, sophistication and raised eyebrows when I pulled up to the valet. You could tell immediately they were impressed by all the questions they were asking.
Yay? Or Nay?
As the primary driver, I loved the Kia Niro, but it’s all the technological advancements and user-friendly options that made this vehicle such a joy. The car handled well in traffic, around the twists and turns of Tennessee potholes, and was not loud which is a big pet peeve of mine. The Kia Niro Touring Edition closely hugs the road always leaving you in control, but does drive more like an SUV than a sedan. It won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been soaring on clouds, but it is certainly comfortable, and it does not feel bumpy at all. As for size, the jury is still out. It was perfect for Kiddo and me, but I’m curious to find out how life would be if we added 6′ 3″ Hubs into the mix. He would surely fit and would be an ideal commuter car for him, but to add the two of us AND our luggage, might be a tight fit.
What Is Your Favorite Road Trip?
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